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Downes Murray International News

From billboards to bus shelters to email, charities try one message

Oxfam America raised more than $1.1-million in the last two months of 2013 by trying just about everything.

To encourage supporters to buy holiday presents from its gift catalogue, which offers livestock, training for a midwife, construction tools, and more to benefit people in the charity’s development programmes, the group unleashed a co-ordinated fundraising drive that sought donors through a variety of techniques at once.

Pictures of goats and chickens beckoned from billboards, bus shelters and online ads. An insert promoting the catalogue was slipped into       330 000 year-end fundraising letters, and more than 400 000 people received a series of five emails promoting the alternative gifts.

The campaign paid off, accounting for roughly 10% of the more than $10-million the charity raised from small dollar donors in November and December.

‘We try to think about meeting supporters where they are,’ says Megan Weintraub, the organisation’s new-media manager. ‘If we can tell a longer story in a direct-mail piece but engage them day-to-day on social media, we find value in talking to them in different ways.’

Consistent messages
Like Oxfam, many charities are now connecting their separate strands of fundraising into unified campaigns.

The ways in which various fundraising channels interact can be complicated and sometimes counterintuitive, say experts. Well-timed emails or online advertisements can boost gifts from a direct-mail appeal. Postal solicitations can encourage online donors to make second gifts, and telemarketing can push both mail and online donors to become monthly supporters.

A consistent message, hammered home again and again, gets donors’ attention, says David Chalfant, director of development at Whitman-Walker Health, a medical center in Washington.

‘Everyone is so inundated with information,’ he says. ‘They may glance through a direct-mail piece, but then if we pop up in their email with a reminder, their response is, “Oh, that’s right.”’

The number of people who give to a charity through more than one channel is usually small, but they’re often some of the best donors, says Peter Schoewe, a vice president at Mal Warwick Donor-digital, a fundraising consulting company. He says they are more likely than those who give through only one channel to make subsequent donations, to become monthly donors, and to give more from one year to the next.

At a time when the cost of attracting new donors is increasing and charities have a hard time holding on to their supporters, that makes a big difference, says Mr Schoewe.

He says he recently calculated the bottom-line impact of a modest increase in the number of multichannel donors for one of his clients: ‘For them, it meant hundreds of thousands each year.’

But integrating different forms of fundraising in a sophisticated way is tough. Planning co-ordinated campaigns is time-consuming and often requires the co-operation of two or more departments. Nonprofits struggle to track results and analyse how different types of fundraising work together so they can make smart choices about where to invest their resources.

And technology can pose challenges: data about people who give in traditional ways often live in a different database than those of supporters who make gifts online, and the records may not merge easily.

Things that seem like simple tasks can be tricky, says Mr Schoewe.

For instance, he says, before a charity can send an email that refers to a telemarketing call, the telemarketing company usually has to transmit information about the call to the organisation’s central fundraising database, which in turn has to send it to the group’s email database.

Says Mr Schoewe: ‘It should happen automatically, but it’s been very hard.’

Sometimes the effort it takes to co-ordinate various fundraising channels is worth it, but sometimes it’s not, says Sarah DiJulio, principal at M+R Strategic Services, a fundraising consulting company.

Don’t assume that co-ordination is always better, she cautions. Instead, measure how much integration lifts fundraising, and weigh that increase against the extra work involved: ‘Sometimes it can be a big sink of energy and time.’

‘Painful’ first effort
Gundersen Medical Foundation learned first-hand just how challenging running a co-ordinated campaign can be.

The organisation, which is the fundraising arm of a nonprofit health system in Wisconsin, employed the approach for the first time during its 2013 year-end fundraising drive, co-ordinating a slew of appeals: direct mail, a full-page advertisement in the foundation’s magazine, video testimonials from current donors, and social-media posts.

The drive brought in more than $271 000, up 12% from roughly $242 000 the previous year.

The integrated campaign was a big reason behind the jump, fundraisers say, but success didn’t come easily.

The organisation’s new email system is more complicated than fundraisers had hoped, and the first campaign message, which told donors to keep an eye out for the direct-mail letter, went out with a broken link to the group’s donation page and had to be re-sent.

Then the foundation realised that its mail appeal which had been redesigned to share the look of the rest of the campaign, needed new envelopes, because adding art at the top of the letter misaligned the donor’s address with the old envelope’s window.

The group decided to have staff members, rather than its direct-mail company, stuff all 6 300 appeals to guard against mismatches between the name printed on the letter and the name on the envelope.

But Gundersen isn’t deterred by the glitches. It plans to take an integrated approach to future campaigns, co-ordinating its fundraising channels closely during important campaigns and taking a more relaxed approach during run-of-the-mill drives, says Mandy Nogle, associate director of development at the foundation: ‘It’s just always painful anytime you’re doing something for the first time.’

Integrating efforts
For charities whose traditional fundraising and online efforts have developed in isolation from each other, bridging the gap can be difficult.

The Humane Society of the United States has long appealed to online donors about its advocacy work, such as pushing for more humane treatment of farm animals and protesting the Canadian seal hunt. In 2013 it started sending those donors direct mail too.

The letters that group got were different from its traditional direct mail, which focuses on its work helping local shelters and features cats and dogs.

Eventually, it wants to send a more unified message to both groups to show the group’s work with local shelters as well as advocacy.

‘If you were to get our direct-mail and be an online member, you’re kind of seeing two different organisations,’ says Kelly Townsend, online fundraising manager at the Humane Society. ‘We want to have people who are loyal to us and really understand our entire mission.’

At large organisations, the people needed to make a co-ordinated fundraising campaign work can be scattered across several departments, which makes planning tricky.

‘Everybody has their own calendars, their own goals, their own projects that they’re working on,’ says Sarah Alexander, deputy organising director at Food & Water Watch.

To make co-operation a priority, the environmental group now holds a weekly meeting for representatives of the development, communications, and education and outreach departments to co-ordinate fundraising activities and decide on timelines.

Because of the regular communication, the group’s advocacy and programmes are playing a more important role in shaping the group’s fundraising messages, says Ms. Alexander.

‘That should always be the case, but it’s happening in a more real-time way with whatever’s going on in field, because we’re having those meetings,’ she says. ‘We’re sitting at the same table and talking about it.’

Planning a co-ordinated fundraising drive is even tougher for national nonprofits that have chapters across the country.

Last year the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society started a new marketing campaign, Someday Is Today, which is designed to build awareness of the organisation’s work. The campaign also includes its fundraising events, like the Light the Night Walk and the Team in Training programme for runners, cyclists, and triathletes. The organisation set up a marketing council, a group of roughly a dozen chapter executives who provide feedback about the campaign and advice on how to carry it out at the local level.

‘We want to make sure there’s complete integration between what’s happening at the national level and what’s happening at the chapter level,’ says Lisa Stockmon, chief marketing officer.

In time, nonprofits may have no choice but to co-ordinate the facets of their fundraising, says Mr Chalfant, of Whitman-Walker Health.

He says donors who have become accustomed to integrated marketing from for-profit companies will demand it: ‘With all the data out there, people expect to be communicated with in a sophisticated way.’    

With acknowledgement to The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Volume XXVI, No. 9, 27 March 2014

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